Documenting Volunteer Training: Trauma-Informed Care & Mental Health Issues

Jul 01 2015

By Janet Woodrome

This is the fourth in our series of blog posts by trainee Janet Woodrome documenting the volunteer training process. 

So many times I’ve heard people criticize a kid’s bad behavior, saying, “If I had done that my mom would have spanked me.” Or, “Some good old-fashioned discipline would cure that.”

I wish all of us who have judged could take the CASA trauma class. It changed the way I look at those kids. I now will wonder what the back story is on that child and their brain.

 A young brain is sort of like a seed, ready to grow and form with proper attention and care. But if that growing plant is repeatedly flooded by hurricanes, then hit with a drought and trampled? Not likely to develop normally, or even survive.

With lots of childhood trauma — violence, name-calling, neglect, sexual abuse — their brains can be forever changed, in a bad way. Kids can even be affected by bad things that happened even before they could talk!

“Early traumatic experiences can build a different house,” according to a video featuring top-of-the-line neurologists. The building blocks that should have gone to develop the self-soothing and emotional control areas go instead to strengthen the fight-or-flight survival region.

No wonder some kids can have outbursts so unexpectedly or intensely.

 In class, we saw a video of a young girl removed from her home to foster care due to abuse. The foster mother was a lovely, kind person. But the child went berserk when this lady gave her a new dress, which reminded the child of an incident where she was abused.

I can see where a stranger not knowing the girl’s back story could think “what an out-of-control brat. She doesn’t even appreciate a brand new dress.”

“The past defines me. I’m unseen, unheard, unwanted. That is what I am,” the girl in the video said.

Repeated bad experiences also create toxic levels of the stress chemical cortisol. It can actually corrode parts of the brain. Brain parts can also shrink.

Fortunately, there is help for trauma-ridden people through special trauma-based therapy. Positive experiences also can help reverse it.

CASA sometimes suggests Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), which is designed specifically for traumatized individuals. In fact, through a special grant-funded initiative, CASA periodically offers special TBRI workshops for volunteers to help them become more trauma-informed in their advocacy.

I’d love to learn more about it. Understanding what drives the foster child’s actions and feelings could help CASA make informed suggestions on where to send them for therapy. What a great help it could be!